Ellis Warner Williamson was born on June 2, 1918, in the town of Raeford in Hoke County, N.C., to James Bailey and Zula Warner Williamson. Ellis' father James served in World War I, which left Zula Williamson to care for six children through 1920 without her husband at home while Ellis was a baby. Ellis Williamson grew up and went to high school in Raleigh, N.C. He served in the North Carolina National Guard during high school and college. Williamson attended and graduated from Atlantic Christian College (now Barton College) in Wilson, N.C., in 1940 with a bachelor of arts degree.
His National Guard unit was called into federal service at the start of World War II. Williamson remained with the 120th Infantry Regiment, 30th Division, throughout the war, serving in ranks from Private to Colonel. Following being commissioned as a Second Lieutenant of Infantry in March 1941, he served as a commander at platoon, company, battalion and regimental levels, and as a battalion and regimental staff officer. Williamson was regimental Commander at the time of the unit's return to National Guard status in January 1946. Then General Ellis Williamson married Margaret Ethel McNeill on September 27, 1942. Williamson participated in the D-Day landings at Normandy in June 1944 with the 120th Infantry Regiment, and he served throughout the rest of the war in the European Theater.
In 1950, Williamson was on the planning staff for and participated in the Inchon Landings in Korea during the Korean War, and subsequently served on the X Corps staff. Following instructional and staff assignments in the United States, Williamson assumed command of the 13th Infantry Regiment at Fort Carson, Colorado, and took the regiment to Germany.
In 1959, he became a U.S. Army paratrooper. Promoted to Brigadier General in 1963, Williamson organized the 173rd Airborne Brigade (Separate) on the island of Okinawa, and took the brigade into Vietnam in May of 1965, becoming the first U.S. Army ground combat unit to enter into combat service in the Vietnam War. In 1966, Williamson became Assistant Commandant at the Infantry School at Fort Benning, Georgia. He was promoted to Major General, and assumed command of the Army Training Center at Fort Polk, Louisiana.
In 1968, Williamson returned to Vietnam, commanding the 25th Infantry Division (nicknamed "Tropic Lightning"). He was designated Chief of the U.S. Military Mission in Iran, and Personal Advisor to the Shah of Iran in 1971. Ellis Williamson retired from the U.S. Army in 1973. His military education included basic and advanced courses at the Infantry School (1942-43), the Command and General Staff College (1950), the Armed Forces Staff College (1953), and the National War College (1960). Williamson received a Master's degree from the Graduate School of Business at Harvard University in 1962, and a Master's degree in International Affairs from George Washington University in 1963.
Williamson received the following awards during his military career: Distinguished Service Cross; Distinguished Service Medal; Silver Star with five Clusters; Legion of Merit with Cluster; Bronze Star Medal with three Oak Leaf Clusters; Air Medal with nine Clusters; Army Commendation Medal; Purple Heart with two Oak Leaf Clusters; American Defense Service Medal; American Campaign Medal; European, African, Middle Eastern Campaign Medal; World War II Victory Medal; Army Occupation Medal (Germany); National Defense Service Medal with Oak Leaf Cluster; Korean Service Medal; United Nations Service Medal; Vietnamese Service Medal; Distinguished Unit Emblem; Department of Defense Identification Badge; Army General Staff Identification Badge; Combat Infantryman's Badge Master Parachutist's Badge; British Distinguished Service Order; French Croix de Guerre with Silver Star; National Medal of Vietnam Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry, with Palm; Vietnamese Army Distinguished Service Medal, First Class; Belgian Fourragere; Republic of Korea Presidential Unit Citation Badge.
Ellis W. Williamson died on January 28, 2007, and was buried in Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Virginia. Williamson is interred in Section 60, Grave 383.